US commander speaks of likely fake Taliban in secret talks
The top US commander in Afghanistan Tuesday acknowledged that a man claiming to be a leading Taliban negotiator engaged in secret talks with Afghan officials might have been an impostor.
General David Petraeus, on a trip to Germany, refused to confirm directly a New York Times report, but said there had long been doubts about one alleged Taliban peace overture towards the Afghan government.
"There was scepticism about one of these all along and it may well be that scepticism was well-founded," he told a press briefing following talks with German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.
"That is not a surprise to see that particular story today. Nor is it a surprise, I can assure you, to (Afghan) president (Hamid) Karzai," he added.
"There have been in the past six to eight months or so various strands of outreach, as they have been termed, from various Taliban senior leaders. Some of these have been recognised as legitimate," he also said.
But all these contacts "are very preliminary" and "at most have been talks about talks", the general added.
The New York Times had earlier reported that a fake Taliban leader had met three times with NATO and Afghan officials.
He was even flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace to meet with Karzai, who has appealed to the Taliban to come to the negotiating table, the paper said.
Some officials told the paper the man may have been a fraud trying to enrich himself.
Others suspected he may have been a Taliban agent or an individual sent by Pakistan's ISI intelligence service, which is said to publicly claim to hunt the Taliban but privately to support the group.
Petraeus, who was also expected to brief members of the German parliament, said NATO forces "have arrested the momentum of the Taliban in many areas of the country, but not all".
"In some areas we have actually reversed that momentum, but there is no question again about the hard work that needs to done to expand and to build upon the very hard-fought progress that has been achieved in the course of the last six months in particular," he added.
The general confirmed that international forces would start to turn over some areas of the country, along with some institutions, to Afghan forces next year.
However, he warned against expecting this to mean a rapid drawdown of NATO forces in Afghanistan and said forces would be redeployed to where they were most needed.
"My expectations are that there will be some elements that will indeed over time begin to go home, but that some others of those who come out of a particular district will actually be reinvested in a contiguous district that needs more work", he said.
Afghan forces should be taking the lead in security operations throughout the country by the end of 2014, he added.
© 2010 AFP